It may be tough for us “old pro” adults to remember, but being a kid can be scary! Luckily there are several things we can do to help kids overcome anxiety. Whether your kid is scared of monsters under the bed or fearful of going to preschool, here are 15 ways to help your kiddo overcome his/her anxieties and fears.
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1. Use a flashlight to “search” for bedtime monsters. If your kid is convinced there are monsters hiding under the bed or in the closet, arm her with a flashlight and do a monster check before bedtime. The act of searching will help her more than your reminders that nothing is hiding beneath the surface. Be sure to let your kid keep the flashlight under the pillow. That little act gives kids extra security and helps them feel empowered.
2. Create a “fact check” sheet. Sit down with your kid and create a checklist to help kids overcome fear. For example, if your little one is afraid of robbers breaking into the house, the fact check sheet could include: house alarm, dog barking, lock all doors. Then have them check the items off when they see the doors are locked. Seeing these things on paper and having the kids check them off will help them feel like they are taking action against the fear.
3. Designate a “worry” time. We all know that every fear rises to the surface in the five minutes before bedtime. Make time for the worry to happen during daylight hours when you can talk more about it. For example, set aside 15 minutes after school, or during dinner time. Let your kiddos know that the time is theirs for talking.
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4. Read books that address the fear. Stories are powerful tools, and sometimes seeing a favorite character conquer a fear will inspire your kiddo to realize he/she can do it too. If your little one is worried about going to preschool, try reading Llama Llama Misses Mama a few weeks before the first day of school. Say “Ahhh!” Dora Goes to the Doctor is a great story if your preschooler is worried about shots and seeing a pediatrician.
5. Create a fear journal. We’ve all heard that fears are worse in our heads. A great way to get worries off the brain is to have kids write out fears on paper. This tool is great for kids who can write, but drawing is another great way to journal the fears.
6. Say positive affirmations. Make it a regular practice for you and your little one to say positive statements out loud that help him/her conquer fears. Try the following statements (especially before fear-inducing situation): “I’m a brave kid,” “I know everything will be okay,” and “I can do this.”
7. Build a safe space. Superman had his ice palace. Your child has a killer fort. Setting up a cozy space where kids can “hide out” soothes, calms and gives them space to work through fears. Don’t forget to stock it with books, music, toys and lights to make it feel like their own.
8. Create a calm environment with a nightlight and white noise. If your kiddo’s fears center around bedtime and the dark, introduce a nightlight into the room or use a white noise machine to drown out the quiet. If you use essential oils, try a diffuser with a calming scent.
9. Address the fear in small steps. With some anxieties, it’s a good idea to take baby steps to help your kiddo overcome fear. For example, if your young one is afraid of swimming, sit with your kid at the edge of a pool and dangle your feet in the water. Do that exercise a few times to get them comfortable, and then gradually take another step further.
10. Ask your kiddo how he/she wants to help. Empower kids by helping them be in charge of their fear. When your little one says he’s scared of monsters, ask him what he wants to do to help. He may create his own way to overcome anxiety.
11. Sport a badge of courage. Let your kid wear her bravery on her sleeve by crafting a DIY badge. Include an image or saying that captures her bold moment, and have her wear it when she needs a little extra reassurance.
12. Enlist furry friends. Facing fears is always easier with a trusted companion at your side. Whether your half-pint wants to cuddle with the dog, snuggle with a stuffie or hug a favorite doll, let pets and favorite toys in on whatever worries your kid has.
13. Fill up their basket. Think like a Scout and always be prepared to counter scary shadows and creaky house noises that land nightly. Leave a bravery basket filled with empowering provisions like a flashlight, audiobook, superhero mask, DIY calming jar, or even a walkie-talkie to help your kiddo make it through on his own.
14. Practice through play. Imaginative play is one way for your kid to work through his fears. For example, if he’s concerned about a trip to the dentist, pull out toothbrushes, flashlights, and little hand mirrors to act out his visit. Then let him play dentist for a while on his stuffies, dolls or you!
15. Stay calm and be understanding. As parents, we know our kiddo’s fear may be irrational, so staying calm and empathizing may be the hardest thing to do. But when kids see their mom and dad as calm and accepting, overcoming fear will become easier to do.
What tips do you have to help kids overcome fear? Tell us in the comments.
—Leah R. Singer with Allison Sutcliffe